Mrs. Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass., invented the chocolate chip cookie in the 1930s, which began the mission for creating a cookie with the perfect texture, flavor and consistency that continues to this day. Cooks attain a soft, chewy texture with a fine balance of ingredients and baking methods. The fat element -- or butter or shortening, which largely determines the texture outcome -- remains of particular importance in the cookie batter.
Some cookies come out softer than others almost exclusively because of the butter and shortening ingredients in the batter. They determine the stiffness of the batter, which holds it in place and prevents it from flattening on the cookie sheet. Flat batter during cooking leads to browning around the edges. They become stiff within a matter of hours of removal from the oven.
Butter vs. Shortening
Many cookie recipes call for either butter or shortening, but the best ones, according to food columnist Kathleen Purvis of "The Seattle Times," include both. Shortening maintains the form of the cookie batter, which prevents it from spreading, drying out and becoming overly crispy. Butter softens the flavor of shortening, giving the cookie a natural flavor.
Use the yellow, butter-flavored shortening in combination with butter instead of the white, standard type to improve the overall cookie flavor. Look for unhydrogenated shortening, a healthier option compared with a standard grocery-store brand because it does not contain trans fats. Avoid trans fats because they contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.
Chilling the cookie batter prior to scooping it onto a cookie sheet remains essential for maintaining a rounder shape in the oven, which prevents it from drying. Use an ice cream scoop to dole out high, round cookie batter portions, which also maintains the shape. Use more than one cookie sheet or cool them between batches to avoid melting the batter too early in the cooking process.
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- "The Seattle Times"; Baking with Butter or Shortening?; Kathleen Purvis; January 2008
- O Chef: What is the Secret to Soft (Mrs.-Field-Like) Cookies?
- "Cook's Illustrated"; Can You Use Butter in Place of Shortening in Pie Crust?; April 2004
- "The New Food Lover's Companion"; Sharon Tyler Herbst, et al.; 2007
Based in Richmond, Va., Tara Carson has written articles for editorial and corporate online and print publications for more than 10 years. She has experience as an adjunct professor of nutrition at Northwest Christian University and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism and nutrition from Virginia Commonwealth University.